Central PA Magazine’s People of the Year Award in Education

Posted by on Apr 6, 2014 in Press | 0 comments

If you ask a group of kid who their heroes are,most will probably name cartoon characters. Maybe a few will tell you their hero is a singer, actor or sport figure. But Manheim native Dr. Dennis Den isn’t satisfied with the fame or fantasy being the only ways one becomes a hero in kids’ impressionable minds.

Co-author of book 50 American Heroes Every Kid Should Meet(www.heroes4us.com), Denenberg hopes to replace the comic- book creations and movie-theater characters with what he calls ” Real heroes”- people who, while they’re not perfect, make the world a better place- including inventor Thomas Alva Edison, cellist YO_YO Ma, humanitarian and diplomat Eleanor Roosevelt, and medical pioneer Jonas Sulk. The book is Hands-on:Every hero has an activity associated with him or her, and books are recommended for further reading. “The book is intended to whet a child’s apatite about a hero, so that the child says, I want to learn more about, say, Elizabeth Blackwell, America’s first female doctor,” says Denenberg.

The original idea was sparked when Denenberg wrote an editorial piece, titled ” De-ALF the Classroom” for a teaching magazine in 1989. It was one of those light-bulb experiences” he says. ” I got to see a lot  of elementrary classrooms across the area, and what I’D see overwhelmingly were cartoon figures – where are the  real people?  From that one page article, Denenberg, who worked in the field of education for 30 years, including 15 years as a professor in Elementary and Early Childhood Department at Millersville University, now has a second career.  It has led him to 37 states and counting, where he leads insightful, fun seminars for teachers and parents, encouraging them to make the stories of heroes part of their daily lives.

” If  this is going to work, it has to be  woven into the curriculm.” he says. Using  props and costumes, Denenberg Portrays characters such as Harry Truman and Eleanor Roosevelt, bringing their stories to life. ” The most distant, remote person is hooked by Eleanor .” he says.

Denenberg also feels it’s a shame that we seem to hide away the stories of people whose positive actions have stood the test of time. ” You ask typical young person who Jonas Salk  is and they don’t have a clue,” he says. ” you may not wlaking today if it weren’t for Dr. Jonas Salk – he found vaccine that prevented Polio.” Real heroes, says Denenberg can be an inspiration for kids to never give on their own goals. Following the examples of real people, they can say, ” I can be like that.”  ” you mean Elizabeth  Blackwell persevered and became a doctor, even though nobody wanted her to become a doctor?” he asks rhetorically. “that’s exactly right.”

So, who is Denenberg’s favorite hero? Thomas Jefferson, ” because of his mind,”he says. ” he just wondered about everything.”he says . Still, he’s the biggist role models are unsung heroes, such as his late parents, who he says never said unkind word to each other in front of their children; his eighth- grade history teacher, who encouraged him to love the subject; his sister Daina, who battled various forms of cancer for 18 years but had a spirt that was simply unbreakable. He always encourage his audiences to take the time to thank the heroes in their own lives. Denenberg also donates all of his speaking money to charity, including a room in Millersville’s  new education building that’s dedicated to his parents. Outside the room is a garden dedicated to Daina.

With Denenberg’s obvious passion for his subject, it seems the only thing not in his future is retirement. His goal, he says, will continue to be empowering teachers to empower students ” he says, and adds ” I’m the messenger – it’s the message that’s important.”

Dennis Denenberg